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Setting Up the Speaker Fight Redux
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Setting Up the Speaker Fight Redux

The Republican conference passes up an opportunity for unity.

Happy Thursday! The United States might not have a new speaker of the House just yet—but you can rest assured knowing we’re home to the heaviest pumpkin on Earth. How festive!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • After several days of tense negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an agreement Wednesday with the National Unity Party to form a “national emergency government” to unify the country in its ongoing war against Hamas. National Unity party leader Benny Gantz declared Wednesday, “Our standing here, shoulder to shoulder, is a clear message to our enemies, and more importantly, a message to all citizens of Israel—we are all together, we are all mobilizing.” As the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas continued to trade fire yesterday, the only power plant in Gaza ran out of fuel and shut down, cutting power in the territory. The death toll continued to climb—more than 1,300 Israelis and 1,200 Palestinians are reported to have been killed. Meanwhile, at least 130 people are still being held captive by terrorist groups in Gaza. Pope Francis on Wednesday called on Hamas to release its hostages.
  • Biden administration officials are considering re-freezing $6 billion in Iranian assets originally set to be returned to Tehran as part of a prisoner swap, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. The news came after several Democratic senators joined their Republican colleagues in criticizing the White House for the move. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tom Cotton, both Republicans, introduced legislation Wednesday to halt the funds, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen suggested that she “wouldn’t take anything off the table in terms of possible future action” against Iran.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took a surprise trip to Brussels on Wednesday to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and NATO defense ministers, asking the alliance for long-distance weapons needed to continue fighting throughout the winter. Zelensky also offered his strong support for Israel and has reportedly sent an official request to meet with Netanyahu in the country. 
  • A bipartisan group of lawmakers—including Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Reps. Donald Norcross of New Jersey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida—met with Netanyahu in Israel on Wednesday to express American support for the embattled country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit the Israeli leader today. 
  • After a closed-door intelligence meeting on Wednesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul affirmed earlier reports that Egypt warned Israel of “something big” three days before Hamas carried out its deadly attack over the weekend. “A warning was given,” he told reporters. “I think the question was at what level.” Meanwhile, additional intelligence collected by the U.S., according to a report from the New York Times, suggested that senior Iranian leadership may not have known about Hamas’ attack on Israel before it occurred—though such a claim is not confirmed.
  • Republicans in the House of Representatives failed to choose a new speaker on Wednesday, despite a majority of the conference selecting Majority Leader Steve Scalise by secret ballot in a conference meeting. More than a dozen Republicans publicly came out against Scalise after that vote, voicing their exclusive support instead for Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. At time of publishing, there was no indication when the House might vote on a speaker.
  • The Biden administration announced new efforts to crack down on “junk fees” hidden in consumer bills. The proposed rule, announced in partnership with the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, would compel businesses to present and describe any surcharges up front in an attempt to increase consumer knowledge. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized the policy, arguing the administration should focus “on holding accountable those who defraud consumers, not … micromanaging the economy.”
  • Former President Donald Trump seemed to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and praise Lebanese Hezbollah as “very smart” at a campaign rally in Florida on Wednesday night, just days after the vicious Hamas terrorist attacks. Trump added he would “stand with Israel 100 percent” if elected president, but called Israel “not prepared” and said he’d “never forget that Bibi Netanyahu let us down” by allegedly backing out of a U.S. operation to kill Iranian General Qassem Suleimani in 2020. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is challenging Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, posted a scathing rebuttal on X. “Terrorists have murdered at least 1,200 Israelis and 22 Americans and are holding more hostage,” he wrote. “So it is absurd that anyone, much less someone running for President, would choose now to attack our friend and ally, Israel, much less praise Hezbollah terrorists as ‘very smart.’”
  • Former TV anchor and former candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake officially declared her long-teased campaign for Senate on Tuesday, with a speech that offered a surprising change in tone. “I know you’re struggling as well,” Lake told Democrats who might be listening. “We’re all struggling—there’s not a gas pump out there for Republicans and one for Democrats.” Lake—who was endorsed at her rally by Trump via video message—joins Republican Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego in the race. Incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat-turned-independent, has not yet indicated whether she will seek re-election.
  • Cenk Uygur, founder of the progressive online news outlet The Young Turks, declared his intention to run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Uygur, a naturalized citizen who was born in Turkey and would likely need a Supreme Court ruling in his favor to serve as president, joined spiritual guru Marianne Williamson in challenging Biden for the Democratic nomination. His candidacy brought the Democratic presidential field back to three after Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s decision to run for president as an independent.

Scalise in the Hot Seat

Steve Scalise speaks before House Republicans met at the Longworth House Office Building on Wednesday October 11, 2023. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Steve Scalise speaks before House Republicans met at the Longworth House Office Building on Wednesday October 11, 2023. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

After ousting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a historic motion to vacate the chair last week, the Republican conference was desperate to avoid a repeat of that same public dysfunction and embarrassment that characterized the end (and the beginning) of McCarthy’s speakership. Part of that effort involved keeping a tight lid on Wednesday’s GOP conference meeting to select the next speaker by confiscating members’ phones.

While Hill reporters were forced to wait until the meeting concluded to hear any news, House staffers’ phone cubby return system created quite the high school hallway scene as lawmakers retrieved their devices. 

Behind those closed doors, Majority Leader Steve Scalise beat out House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan in a conference vote for the Republican nomination to become speaker, but the Louisiana Republican still faces the steep challenge of cobbling together 217 votes on the House floor. To do that, he’ll need to unite a GOP conference that’s still fractured in the aftermath of McCarthy’s ouster last week by a handful of hardline Republican defectors. 

Following a closed-door candidate forum on Tuesday night where Scalise and Jordan made their respective pitches, even the most plugged-in Capitol Hill insiders were unsure which man would come out on top at Wednesday’s conference vote. Heading into the meeting, some lawmakers were pushing for a change to the conference rules that would require 217 votes—the number needed to win in a House floor vote and nearly the GOP’s entire 221-seat conference—for a candidate to secure the Republican designation, as opposed to a simple majority. Rep. Chip Roy, a hardline House Freedom Caucus member who endorsed Jordan for the speakership, introduced the proposal—and Jordan and his allies pushed for the measure, hoping that raising the bar could allow them to prevent a Scalise victory if they lacked the votes to win outright. The conference roundly rejected the proposal—also designed to limit chaos and internal divisions from spilling out into public—by a vote of 135 to 88, signaling that Scalise would likely secure the party nomination by a decent margin.

But the majority leader barely eked out a victory, winning just 113 votes compared to Jordan’s 99. Eight members voted for other candidates and three voted present. Scalise’s strength on the full House floor will be even lower, as the conference tally includes support from three delegates from U.S. territories—who can vote in private GOP conference matters but not on the House floor.

“We need to make sure we’re sending a message to people all throughout the world that the House is open and doing the people’s business,” Scalise told reporters after the conference vote, saying the first order of business under his speakership would be to pass a resolution supporting Israel. After the candidate forum Tuesday night, Scalise emphasized his ability to bring people together. “I’ve been a unifier, I’ve been somebody who’s built coalitions throughout my entire career,” he said.

But at this stage, he doesn’t appear to have the votes to get to 217 on the House floor. Republican leadership scrapped a planned floor vote yesterday as a steady stream of members said they wouldn’t support Scalise. As of Wednesday evening, at least a dozen GOP lawmakers publicly opposed Scalise—a non-starter, as he can only afford to lose four Republicans, assuming all of the Democrats vote against him. Jordan threw his support behind Scalise after he lost the conference vote, reportedly offering to be the lawmaker to officially nominate Scalise on the House floor. 

Unwilling to relent, a contingent of lawmakers have said they won’t follow Jordan’s lead. “I’m not switching my vote,” said Rep. Max Miller, a fellow Ohioan. “I’m Jim Jordan all the way.” 

Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania, and Barry Moore of Alabama all voiced support for Jordan. Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina told CNN yesterday she’d back Jordan and expressed frustration that the House didn’t hold a vote yesterday, saying, “The American people want us to get back to work.” Mace was one of the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats to eject McCarthy, leaving the House speaker-less for the last week. Additional McCarthy allies, still smarting from his ouster, are less than enthusiastic about a Scalise speakership—McCarthy maintained an icy relationship with the majority leader, excluding him from his inner circle. 

Some of the Republicans who removed McCarthy, including the ringleader Rep. Matt Gaetz, have thrown their support behind Scalise. “Long live Speaker Scalise,” Gaetz said yesterday, in a ringing endorsement. Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee also voiced support for the Louisiana Republican. 

Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado isn’t planning on voting for either candidate. Buck asked both Scalise and Jordan at Tuesday’s candidate forum whether they thought the 2020 election was stolen and wasn’t satisfied with their answers. “Neither of them came forward and said yes or no, and it’s really a yes or no question. You either believe the election was stolen or it wasn’t stolen,” he said in an interview with the Dispatch Podcast yesterday afternoon. “If you don’t have the moral fortitude to clearly state your position and either take grief from Donald Trump or take grief from the other side, then you don’t deserve to be speaker in my mind.” Buck was also one of the eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy, citing broken promises over government spending.

Hill analysts don’t see a coherent strategy from those planning to oppose Scalise on the floor. “Some of it is, are they doing this just so that they can continue their publicity campaign of being the real conservatives who are constantly betrayed by the leadership, who are the fake conservatives and the establishment that they hate?” said Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute. 

Other than perhaps burnishing their street cred as fighters against the D.C. establishment, much of this crusade seems fruitless. “I don’t think these guys have a strategy,” Liam Donovan, a lobbyist and former Republican Senate campaign operative, told TMD. “Right now, there’s blood in the water, and they’re seeing where it goes.”

Without a clear majority behind him, Scalise could be in for a redux of last January’s marathon speakership battle—which saw 15 successive rounds of agonizing voting and negotiation until McCarthy finally won. Glassman argued, however, that Jordan’s withdrawal makes a Scalise victory the most likely outcome. “In my view, Scalise is going to get this with the same potential kicking and screaming that McCarthy had, but he’s going to get it because if you don’t have a viable alternative with a base of support, there’s not really much else that can happen,” he told TMD. “With Jordan backing Scalise, this is a wear-down-the-final-holdout situation.”

But even if Scalise eventually secures the gavel, he’ll face the same dysfunctional dynamic that plagued McCarthy, as the party’s slim four-seat majority empowers rebels in the conference to continue their antics. “It’s asymmetrical warfare,” Donovan said. “These are guerrillas going against the will of the majority, and it’s not clear what you can do there because they do have the narrow margins that give them significant leverage.”

“[This is] the same issue as January,” he continued, “in the sense that then, as now, it doesn’t seem like these guys want anything out of Steve Scalise, and therefore you can’t satisfy somebody who’s not looking to be accommodated.” 

Indeed, the fractures over spending that some House Freedom Caucus members said drove them to remove McCarthy are still wide open. The continuing resolution McCarthy passed with Democratic help to keep the government running expires next month, and whoever becomes the speaker will face the same choice of striking some sort of compromise palatable to Senate Democrats or shutting down the government. “If the very idea of deal-making means you are betraying people,” Glassman said, “then there’s no one that the Freedom Caucus is ever going to accept as a leader because it’s the very nature of being the leader.”

As Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota said last week, “Frankly, one has to wonder whether the House is governable at all.” 

Asked last night whether there’d be a vote on Thursday, House Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry told reporters, “That’s the hope.” Could anyone get 217 votes? “That’s the hope,” he repeated. In any scenario, Scalise faces an uphill battle to restore a sense of normalcy in the House majority.

“The election of a speaker isn’t one vote one time,” Glassman said. “It’s a decision by a majority of the House to be a coalition going forward, and simply getting one vote one time from 217, or normally 218, isn’t enough to create the speakership as an ongoing proposition. You need those people to back you, day in and day out, on the rules and on the agenda, even if they don’t love the underlying bills.”

At least, that’s the hope.

Worth Your Time

  • A number of elite colleges across the country have come under lots of fire in recent days for their seeming inability to properly condemn the horrific attack Hamas carried out against Israel. The University of Florida bucked that trend. “I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism,” President Ben Sasse—the former U.S. senator from Nebraska—wrote in an email to alumni. “This shouldn’t be hard. Sadly, too many people in elite academia have been so weakened by their moral confusion that, when they see videos of raped women, hear of a beheaded baby, or learn of a grandmother murdered in her home, the first reaction of some is to ‘provide context’ and try to blame the raped women, beheaded baby, or the murdered grandmother. In other grotesque cases, they express simple support for the terrorists.” He closed the letter with a clarion call for his community: “When evil raises its head, as it has in recent days, it is up to men and women of conscience and courage to draw strength from truth and commit ourselves to the work of building something better—to the work of pursuing justice and pursuing peace. That is what we aim to do through education, compassion, and truth here at the University of Florida.”

Presented Without Comment

Insider: An NYU Law Student Lost Their Post-Grad Job Offer Over Their Statement Blaming Israel for the Hamas Attacks, Firm Says

Toeing the Company Line

  • Join Steve and Jonah for a live podcast recording in the Club Room at The Liberty in New York City on November 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Tickets are $20 and include access to the recording, a drink, and mingling with other Dispatch readers. Members of The Dispatch will have exclusive access (🔒) to tickets until October 26.
  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics team looked into the politics of Israel on the New Right, Scott wondered (🔒) if the U.S. immigration system makes it too difficult for highly skilled immigrants to work here, Jonah dismantled (🔒) popular arguments by Hamas apologists, and Nick pondered (🔒) whether those Western Hamas apologists should suffer professional consequences.
  • On the podcasts: In between votes for House speaker, Rep. Ken Buck spoke with Steve and Declan about the race and other House politics on The Dispatch Podcast while David and Sarah return to their regular Supreme Court programming with a side of disgust with the antisemitic rot coming at elite universities.
  • On the site today: Harvest reports on the devastating toll of the weekend’s attack on small communities in southern Israel, Charlotte looks at what the war might mean for Saudi-Israeli normalization, and Enia Krivine explains the threat Hezbollah presents to Israel. Plus, Drucker covers the Chris Christie campaign from New Hampshire.

Let Us Know

The last GOP speaker vote took 15 rounds—will you take the over or the under this time?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.